2012 favorites

I’ve been making lists of the books I read since I started reading books. It’s a bit of an obsession. Like a photo album, I like to peruse what I’ve read years past and reminisce. Also, it gives me an inflated sense of accomplishment. So what if I did nothing truly noteworthy last year?? Look at all these books I read! Thanks to GoodReads—that beautiful encourager of book-list junkies—I realized a few days ago that I’d read 32 books in 2012. And that if I hustled, I could make it 33 by the new year. I just so happened to turn 33 a few weeks ago and so obviously took this as a sign. 33 books the year I turned 33 is a great omen going into 2013, wouldn’t you say?

I’m happy to report that I met my goal around 8pm (then proceeded to raise a teacup of Martinelli’s in an early toast to the new year with my kids, directly followed by a dream-light techno dance party in our living room. Yeah. That’s how we do it around here). Here’s the best of my 2012 reading. Ten books I most adored.

1. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. You can read a more thorough description of this book’s new standard-setting awesomeness here. Let me just say that reading this will probably ruin most other contemporary books for you. Because they just won’t compare.

2. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. You know how people are always throwing around the word “genius” in their descriptions of artists? Well, I’m not one of those people. That said, Woolf is a true and unabashed genius and I count the reading of this book as a life experience.

3. When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to Present by Gail Collins. The prose here reads more like a novel than a history text. If you’re looking for a sweeping view of modern feminist history (which I felt like I’d been looking for for a decade or so), look no further.

4. God Went to Beauty School by Cynthia Rylant.  God set down in the world of couch-buying, dog-walking and beauty school attendance. Okay. So these are poems intended for YA. But each is witty and lovely and surprising and perfect.

5. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. A must-read soul crusher, folks. Talk about unsung authors. Yates is at the top of that list for me. Also, if you possibly can, you must also read his short story Oh, Joseph, I’m So Tired. Because it’s brilliant.

6. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick. Another heart breaker. Well-researched, compassionate journalism. I’ve got a serious soft spot for the plight of defected North Koreans. 

7. The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I’m a painfully slow reader. But I read this book in a day. Beautiful prose. Hideous (but compelling!) subject matter. It’s the end of the world, after all. McCarthy has hit some kind of authorial nirvana. Both writing and story here soar in unconscious perfection.

8. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. This would have been so life-saving to have read in my twenties. C’est la vie. I’ll just have to pass it on to my own daughters at the appropriately poignant moment in their lives.

9. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. We are all loathe to admit it, but Oprah got a few things right.

10. Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories by Alice Munro. Last but not least; this book is not an afterthought. It’s more of a given. It’s the Munro book I happened to have read this year. And any book by Munro is bound to blow one’s mind.

Cheers to good books! What were your favorites of 2012?

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3 thoughts on “2012 favorites

  1. Oooooh… you hit some good ones last year! Thanks for the Goon Squad link-back, btw. Writing down Mrs. Dalloway now. Would you believe I’ve never read any Virginia Woolf? Ouch. Talk soon!

  2. Good call on The Road. Cormac McCarthy writes like no other writer, always powerful, always deadly.

    I read through some of David Mitchell’s stuff just before 2012 concluded. He wrote Cloud Atlas along with a few other novels (I also read Number 9 Dream and Ghostwritten). I’d highly recommend Ghostwritten if you were a fan of Good Squad. You comment that other modern fiction might not compare. I gotta say that Ghostwritten will give you faith in that comparison.

    Cloud Atlas was an incredible feat of writing. Not so much good as it was unreal to comprehend how he wrote the book. A thick, robust novel, worth a read, but give yourself some time to buffer. It was the slowest book I read in 2012.

    Cheers!

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